Ms. Melkonian gave me permission to add our e-interview to my blog. I gained so much from it and hope you learn something new as well.
Q. When (what age/grade level) did you first enter school in Armenia and how long were you in school? Was this a standard length of education in Armenia?
A. I was born in Yerevan, Armenia, in 1970. My years of school attendance were from 1970-to 1987. I graduated after ten years, which was the standard length of education in Armenia. I started school when I was 7 years old. As a first grader, this was the age to start school in 1970s and 80s. There was no kindergarten grade in regular public schools, unless parents chose to send their kids to preschool and kindergarten schools.
There were not separate middle school and high school, so the same school had all instruction and the appropriate teachers for all grades. From the first and third grades student would have the same teacher. I had the same teacher for 3 years (not sure if it was a good idea!). From the 2nd grade we started learning Russian, which was the 2nd language for the country at the time, and I believe even now. English is also a 2nd language-a very common language to learn in Armenia the last almost two decades.
In the 1970s and 80s each school would offer their foreign language, so depending on where the student was, there was not choice for the student other then what the school was offering. I started with German, and I continued learning English because we moved to another area and I had to change schools.
Q. What are students’ expectations and perceptions of school structure? Are they success-minded and take the school environment seriously, is it the other way around or is it somewhere in the middle?
A. I think students’ perceptions of the school, teachers and its structure was rather serious. The school was and supposed to be a strict and formal environment where were going to start learning reading, writing, math and physical education, and other subjects later on.
I was even afraid of my teacher when I started school. I think she was not the smiling and friendly teacher. I suppose students always want to succeed, even if they don’t think about it consciously. However, some students are more success minded than others. This has lots to do with parents’ attitude and psychological motivators.
Q. What is the emphasis of learning in Armenia? (Is the focus on critical thinking, memorization or problem solving? How do Armenian educators see homework and tests?)
A. Emphasis of learning had changed over the years and learning. But the general emphasis in elementary grades was on problem solving, memorization and reading. In upper grades, of course, developing critical thinking skills was also part of instruction. Of course this was accomplished in different ways.
It was required for the student to retell and talk about it in front of the class, rather then writing about it. Writing was also part of the grade, but students’ quarterly grades were based on their oral retelling of the particular lesson they read in their textbooks. It could be history, geography, etc.
Homeworks and tests were also important and given regularly. However, there were not standardized tests.
Q. How do students treat teachers in Armenia? How do teachers treat students?
A. Students treated teachers with respect. Like I mentioned, there was even the fear factor there. The teachers did have high expectations from their students. However, don’t think they didn’t have the same respect for all their students. Perhaps many of them didn’t treat their students objectively and equally. In my opinion, If there was a student who did well in the beginning of the school and was successful, they would have the “reputation” of a Good Student and I think this was not fair to others who were either not doing well in certain areas or had other potentials than the teacher failed to recognize.
Q. What are parent perceptions and expectations from schools in Armenia?
A. In general, parents trusted teachers and what they were doing. They rarely questioned the quality of the work they were doing, etc. I believe they had the same general expectations as any other parent would in other cultures and times. They expected their kids to learn and succeed.
Q. How active are Armenian parents in the educational process? (In the U.S., in Armenia or both.)
A. Armenian parents are active in their children’s education process. This is a common pattern, that parents who are more conscious about their students’ success, are more active, encouraging, and therefore more involved.
In my opinion, Armenian parents, both in the United States and Armenia , are more active if the teachers involve them and show that they care about the individual student’s progress.
Q. Based on your own experiences as a student in Armenia, and your experiences as a teacher in the U.S. – and based on stories you have heard from others, if any – what would you say is the main difference between education in Armenia and education in the U.S.? (For example, are there any challenges or conveniences here that aren’t in Armenia? Or perhaps were there conveniences in Armenia that weren’t ?)
A. Having seen and experienced the schooling system in both countries, I have had many observations and ideas, which are very interesting. I realized more than the overall culture and social system is a big factor in individual’s education. This was a big factor that affects teacher’s, and their philosophy and style of teachers. There were not many standardized tests, which at the end helped students develop more critical thinking skills, if it was not obvious from first hand. (I believe that critical thinking skills is and individual students’ way of thinking and developing. For example, It has little to do with student’s grades, or being a straight “A” student.
Many Armenian parents agree that there was much more respect for teachers in Armenia, especially in the 1970s and 80s. There are many conveniences in The United States, that people didn’t or don’t have in Armenia, of course. The global changed that occurred after late 80s was the development of computers.
One thing that I see lacking especially in upper grades and in high schools is that students don’t read as much and don’t read classical and European literature. They don’t study and learn about the world history. In general, math curriculum is not as advanced as it was and is in Armenia. Of course I have the general public schools in the United States and not the specific schools and one portion of the students. This is a rather general observation.
Another observation that I had was that teachers are more sensitive towards not hurting their students’ self esteem. For example, they refrain from putting their students down in front of their peers or classmates. This was not a big deal in Armenia and perhaps also in Russia and other European and Asian Cultures.
Q. Is there anything you would like to add that might help me better understand the life and culture of Armenian students in standard U.S. classrooms?
A. Like I mentioned earlier, culture and social system is a big factor in any school system which is always changing. Education is always in the process of a change and evolvement. As any given Culture, it has many facades, layers, and perspectives.